Tramontana ing by UzLj3VMZ


                                          Prof. Salvatore Tramontana

        What the historian chooses about the past often corresponds to what everybody tend to explain
and understand about the world around us. And sometimes, as Machiavelli said in the Proemio to the
second book of the Discorsi sopra la prima Deca di Tito Livio, historians and men of letters,
unconsciously led to sublimate reality, hide, in past things “quelle che recherebberero a quelli tempi
infamia1” and raise and give magnificence to “quelle alter che possono partorire loro gloria2”, with
the result of celebrating the prestige of those who won, so that the descendants, finding “cagione di
maravigliarsi di quelli uomini e di quelli tempi3”, would be obliged “a sommamente laudarli4”. It’s
well-known that the historiography has created some myths, legends, liturgies around the Normans
and it has even identified some providential coincidences between Ruggero II‘s “strong state” and the
scoring hegemonies of a tragic period of our country.
        Apart from the rhetorical devices and every interpretation which can be given “to the past
times”, there’s no doubt that the Normans showing in that big liquid theatre, more than the German
invasions, contributed to underline the European physiognomy, symbolically represented by a
century which was beginning, in the 1002, with al - Mansur’s death, the big devastator of the Spanish
Christian countries, and which finished in the 1099 with the conquest of Gerusalem by the crusaders.
Represented by a century included in a time when with the Norman intrusion in some spaces in the
Mediterranean, some new dynamics of power and relationships were born among different
civilizations; Henri Pirenne underlined these events in his History of Europe and Roberto Sabatino
Lopez considered them as a consequence of the phenomenon of those people who were crosswise in
the history path. With the operative presence in the Mediterranean areas, in fact, the Normans
determined fights of savage civilizations, but even exchanges of goods and ideas, and, more
important, mixtures between different peoples. They tended to impose themselves as a measure and
axis in the sphere of values and of institutions; they worked to avoid hard curtains and to fix among
the West, Northern Africa, the East, an ambiguous line of limits, suggested by the uncertainty and
necessity of surviving and of maintaining their identity, but even a limit to consider both as a frontier
and as an outpost of the “reconquista”. the Norman choice offers, in fact, a message which, in its plot,
that is in its text, “textus” in Latin means weaved, suggests the identity of a presence in the south of
Italy, in Sicily, in the Mediterranean (the identity of the organization and of the function of a reign

  Translation: “those which would bring an outrage to those times”
  Translation: “those which can grow in them glory”
  Translation: “reason to be astonished about those men and those times”
engaged above all to implement, in a strategic place of the Mediterranean, an unitary policy, linked to
that intent, even if not always in the facts, in the Christian Europe led toward Africa and the East).
This reign, presenting itself in an unitary form, broke ancient balances, but, more than a rupture, it
imposed even if in a traumatic way, a process of stability, and not only in the traditional particularism
of the South of Italy and of Sicily, but in the whole Italy, in Europe, in the Mediterranean. And the
Mediterranean, in the bassin of which Europe used to meet Asia and Africa, was, in the XI-XIII
centuries, the umbilicus of the world.
Called by the Islamic “white middle sea” the Mediterranean was not only a big expanse of water, a
geographic space where peoples could meet and measure themselves, but it was a way of being, the
multiple, seductive and contradictory symbol of an age.
           Ibn-Hawqal suggests us the same thing, when, specifying that “no sea has more beautiful
coasts” and that all those who sail it “are used to passing to the others’ coast and conquer it”, he offers
not just the geographic description of a space, but the representation of a setting. He described a
cultural and conflicting identity surely marked by the differences, but supported by the presence of a
dense crisscross of communication, by a process of interchange and osmosis, by a set of sets which
went beyond the dogmatic universal ideas of interpretation, beyond the fight, because it belonged to
the essence of men, who are for their nature multiple in economy and religion, in law and institutions.
The Byzantine, Muslim, Latin, Jewish sources give evidence that the frontier among the populations
who gave onto that sea was not sharp, but instable, precarious and characterized by continuous
agreements and negotiations in the economic, political, religious and cultural fields.
           From this context, from this spreading collective feeling of relationships which include, in
their cultural and above all religious identities, incoming consequences in the economic and
socio-political fields, it happens that some occasions which had permitted the birth of the Norman
reign, its valence and its identity, emerge.
That is the centrality of a position which, in the same moment in which it made the reign invulnerable
from the other attacks, it promoted, until William II’s choice, the defense and the development,
thanks to the ingenious skirmish of alliances. The reign was born belonging to no traditions, in a
politically shared territory which was sensible to what arrived from Africa and from the East; this
reign, which controlled the passage from the Eastern bassin to the Western one of the Mediterranean,
from the Adriatic to the Egeo seas, was in the middle of the fights and of the discordances between the
Muslim and the Christian worlds, between the Eastern and the Western empires, between the
pontifical power and the new Italian and European emerging forces. It was placed in the centre of the
big changes inside the limits of the Western Christianity, when the structures of monarchy weren’t

    Translation: “to celebrate them”
able to be compared yet to those, more mature, of the main maritime republics of the peninsula,
supported by the strong Germanic world which was growing. They were obliged to open their doors
to the flux of those merchants coming from the central-northern Europe, with the result of blocking
the possibilities of formation and ascent of a local class, they were obliged to go beyond the systems
of an economy based on sustenance and to start an unequal process of exchange between the Southern
corn and the Northern artifacts.
       In this scenery it’s important to consider the relationship between the reign and the
Mediterranean; in this scenery it’s worth to look at the dynamics of a reign, the typology of which,
expressed by the pontifical crowning, identified itself, not only by imagination, with a political
ecumenism supported also by the survival of Byzantine traditions. The Byzantine reflections can be
grasped in the historical role of the south of Italy and of Sicily, always with instable balance between
the Mediterranean destiny and the European vocation. This role was always influenced by the dual
and contradictory attraction towards the pressures of Latin-German Christianity and towards the
models and representations of power of the Byzantine and Islamic worlds. It was brought towards the
pressures of East and West, of East which provided the symbolic forms and the West which offered
the law concepts, of both which pointed out the political orders against the figure of the monarch.
       In this sense it’s convenient to think about how much circularity of culture and behaviors has
always been present among the areas of the three big monotheist religions, the limits and contingent
differences of which seem not to correspond to the long roots of a civilization characterized by even
gory contradictions, but above all by sharing and comparisons. If we study the written and figurative
sources in which the expressive forms of communication grow through an active assimilation of
Byzantine and Islamic experiences and through an exchange with the cultural and moral patrimony of
the Christian Europe, the convergences look immediately more evident, not only in those forms
mediated by the instruments of politics and institutions, but even in the substance of everyday life and
in the mutual relationships among the ethnic groups. Abu Ishaq Ali al-Farisi considered almost all the
inhabitants of Sicily as Muslims in their faith and behaviors. Abu Abd Allah Yaqut in his “Alphabetic
dictionary of countries” collocated the island, the main town of which had 300 mosques, as a land
wrested to Islam. Ibn Gubayr underlined the persistence of the Muslim way of living in the Norman
Sicily. Being in Palermo in 1184, that is a century after the Latin intrusion, the big geographer form
Valencia, wrote almost astonished and certainly pleased, that “there’s no place of Christianity like
Sicily”, where the monarch “look like the Muslim caliphs who use to immerge in the pleasures of the
principality, for the laws orders, for the habits, for the magnificence of the court and the luxury of
ornaments”. In order to confirm his consideration he referred some details, the ones more meaningful
he observed in Palermo. He described that Christian women spoke currently the Arabic language,

they behaved “as Muslim women” and during the Christmas night they “went out in the roads dressed
in silk golden striped dresses, smart mantle and multi-colored veils: they wore small golden boots and
went to the churches wearing every ornament like the Muslim women”.
       This was the sign of the presence of life habits and way of thinking widely spread in Sicily in
a lot of settings which, above all in Palermo, a too Byzantine, too Muslim, too Christian town, they
had to offer a contradictory and suggestive sight. In every street there were different ethnic
components and the fascinating contamination of different languages which showed the signs of a
difficult assimilation: the muezzins’ prayers, together with Saint John of the Hermit’s psalms, songs
and sermons of the Greek clergy together with the harem of a monarch like William II who
proclaimed himself like the protector of Christianity, he ordered the foundation of the Monastery of
Monreale, he dressed and ate like Muslims and in the occasion of an earthquake he had invited those
close to him “to prey each one the god each one adored and believed in; who has faith in his god - he
had specified - will enjoy the peace in his heart”.
       These were habits which sometimes seemed to be anachronisms, which for somebody wore an
unpleasant air of profanation and for others the charm of regrets. These were habits felt like ruins of a
past age which had consumed its important historical function, habits difficult to forget, to neglect
and which everyone has charged with a creed free from any religious worry and with closeness to the
Christian world. This creed is a regret which became an exercise of imitation, often as an address of
habit, sometimes as a basic instrument of culture. Going beyond the elegance and the fineness of the
art called Arabic-Norman and to its balances of harmony and grace, we need to think to some facts
linked to the multiplicity of behaviors in everyday life, to Trotula’s suggestions of make-up to the
Christian women about the way “the Saracen women make up their face”; to the gaits, to the eunuchs
of the palace and to the king’s escort made up by black soldiers guided by a Muslim; to the astrologers
and physicians, and to the Muslim nurses in a miniature by Pietro da Eboli, to the textiles still having
an Arabic name in 1295 in a marriage portion of a Catalan woman; to the 38 beads which looked like
a Muslim rosary more than a Christian one present in the polyptych of San Gregorio by Antonello da
Messina; to the Muslim headgear worn by Pilato in a miniature of the Book of Ore by Alfonso I of
Aragon. And if in the Norman Assise and in the Constitutiones by Federico II there’s no reference to
the Muslim Law, there’s no doubt that those laws were applied in Sicily by the Saracen community
and known by the others. Even Ibn Gubayr narrates about a qadì who in Palermo “gave reason in the
local fights” and about a harim who in Trapani was “in charge of the judgements”. And the presence
of Saracen judges and the signs around which grew a lot of life habits in Sicily had to seem to the
reporter some important indicators of spontaneous participation of men, and above all of the Christian
women, to the harmony of the community created in the consciousness of Muslim pressures and in

which the clothing was the main expression of their ethic and religious purposes. For this reason Ibn
al-Athir wrote that Earl Henry, nephew of the king of England, wishing to “capture the benevolence”
of Saladin “asked as a present a honour clothing saying: you know that wearing the qabà and the
sharbùsh in our culture is tried, but I’ll wear them as your present for the affection I feel for you”.
Saladin sent him sumptuous honour clothing, in which there were a qabà and a sharbùsh, and he wore
them in Acri”.
       So there weren’t politics influencing everything, but economics, and above all behaviors and
culture. In fact the Reign of Sicily was on the geographic path, but also in the cultural and mental
ones, of the most different Mediterranean itineraries. Moreover, the impetus which led Carlo Magno
to look for savants, and Walafrido Strabone said “to ensure them the right way to make philosophy”,
was the same as that one we notice in other monarchs and in the kings of Sicily. The Muslim reporters
wrote about Ruggero II that he preferred “the savants to his priests and monks” and about Alfonso X,
who wrote the Book of the Fuero, “he was a milestone in the literary prose and in the history of Law”,
they underlined that he was called el Sabio, not because he was wise, but because he was a savant.
They underlined in this way the cultural sensibility and the desire of knowledge which were the basis
of that circuit of exchanges which has always influenced and modified the biological life, the
connections of the body, the job, the affections, the habits and social relationships.
       The reasons were certainly different, the fact distinct in time and space, but in front of spread
behaviors, interiorized by an acquired tradition, it’s impossible not to identify the common
willingness of the political powers to know their mental mechanisms and the models of assimilation
through a dialogue with the savants, we would say with the intellectuals today. The geographic
distribution of the relationships between Arabic and Christian in the whole Mediterranean area helps
to better understand a cultural circulation which in Spain was no more concentrated in Cordova, but
spread all over Toledo and Seville; this circulation in France has as a reference following the path
marked by Gerberto d’Aurillac, Abelardo’s settings and following the path marked by Ugo di San
Vittore, the groups of study and of research in Chartres; in the Reign of Sicily it represented the centre
of meeting with the East, with the Roman church, with the Italian and German territories of the Sacro
Romano Impero, with England. Here, John of Salisbury, through a precise analysis of the meanings,
even symbolic of the body, extended the use of this term to the indication of the space which the State
qualified and expressed. To the indication of that political and social space constituted by the body of
its components, by the allocation “of men and groups inside a geographic and moral extension, fruit
of history in which feelings of belonging and of addictions show themselves, exchanges and
interactions are produced, hierarchies are built”. The Reign of Sicily, above all after the beginning of
the Crusades, and thanks to that spread plurilinguism which had improved a lot of translations from

the Greek, Arabic, And Jewish, had become important crossroads of cultural exchanges.
       It’s symptomatic and meaningful that Giacomo da Vitry, in his book on the expedition in the
East, puts us on our guard against the deplorable habit of going to Terrasanta not for devotion, but for
“curiositatem” , not “ad laudem et gloriam Dei” but for vanity and will of knowledge. The Crusades,
more than the control on Jerusalem, had allowed the Christian world to discover a culture from which
it had many things to learn, starting from the mental behavior towards the book, seen no more as a tool
to study, that is as a didactic and professional text to consult and gloss, but also as a simple way of
communication and so to buy, to give as a present, to rewrite, to collocate in libraries and to put in
circulation. In Syracuse, Palermo, Messina there were libraries - Aristippo writes in the Prologue to
the translation of the Fedone - in which there were volumes of various subjects and Federico II’s
library was made of books of every subject and in various languages.
Since the arrival of the Normans in the South of Italy and in Sicily it was spread the circulation of
specialized workmen and of miniaturists who used to modernize continuously their techniques and
their culture through frequent trips.
       The miniating code of the Chronaca by Giovanni Skylitze, brought in Sicily by Enrico
Aristippo was probably one of the links used by the Norman monarchs to imitate the Basilei of
Bysanzio’s habits, seals, degrees. If we look at the miniatures of De Rebus Siculis Carmen by Pietro
da Eboli built in the scriptorium of Palermo, we surely notice that in the figurative language, different
from that of the mosaics of the Palatina and of Monreale, are reflected the influences of a cultural
circulation, the composite iconographic typology of which has been found in the scientific text by
Federico II, in the herbaries, in the medicine treatises.
       There was a system, as we see, of political and cultural exchanges, a receptive setting minding
what was happening in the North of Europe, in the Byzantine area, in the Islamic world; a space
dimension which conveyed suggestions, tastes, techniques and choices of life coming from different
and far cultures. This intertwining between the political power and the organization of spaces,
between ways of communication and practice of everyday life, even referring to the therapeutic
choices, between the animal world, vegetal world, medicines, drugs, love potions, food, sexuality and
laws, constitute a history which has no end; the continuous circulation between substance apparently
lifeless, vegetal world and animal world which Aristotele had described. And without taking details,
we found that at Federico II’s Court there were mathematicians like Giovanni da Palermo, of Arabic
origin, and scientists like Pietro Ispano and above all like Michele Scoto and maestro Teodoro. That is
savants with a preparation heavily influenced by the Greek culture, by the Arabic one of the Toledo
school flourishing in Spain, by that of Montpellier. They conveyed their knowledge as acute
investigators of the mysteries of nature, and in particular of the qualities of the herbs and of the drugs

effects, in a wonderful scientific synthesis which seemed to many people, a game of magic; we’re
talking about those arts which, during that age, enchanted also Dante, who even considered them
deploring: “Quell’altro, che nei fianchi è così poco, /Michele Scoto fu, che veramente/ de le magiche
frodi seppe il gioco5”.
           In this context Federico II’s Quesiti are a meaningful evidence; his questions expressed the
insecurity and worry of an entire age obliged to continuously adapt itself to the changing of the
concrete situations and of its theoretic pressures and the methodology of which had its roots in the
dubitative models which had been Abelardo’s and Eloisa’s and would after have become Tommaso
d’Aquino’s patrimony. The Quesiti, literary framed genre for technique and style, following a
scheme of questions and answers, were the expression of a culture which hid in its basis the
discussion, the debate and therefore the formulation of a problematic thought. The solution,
committed to famous savants, even when it was confined in theoretic settings with a few relevance on
the operative plan, reflected a solid rootage in the plots which in those years characterized the settings
of court of the Regnum. There, culture was supported mostly by the monarchs’ interests and
curiosities, more than by the exigencies of the efficient and spread school system. The only exception
was the medical school of Salerno where, at the beginning of the XII century, the presence of
Adelardo di Bath is registered, together with his discussions with a Greek philosopher. In his
“Questiones naturales” in which the English scientist grouped the experiences of Salerno debates
about astrology, cosmology, medicine, botany, zoology, they reflected about “if the fish, not having
lids, could sleep, and in which way they could communicate without any voice, and if they hear
without ears, and why their meat is not salt, and why the marine species are bigger than those living in
fresh water”.
           Certainly, it’s difficult to say if these discussions had results on the material trim of the
country and on its juridical order. Abelardo’s destiny in France, Enrico Aristippo’s condemnation to
death decided by William I, Pier della Vigne’s vicissitudes, would suggest that the monarchs had
towards the intellectuals some behaviors that with euphemism could be defined cruelly bureaucratic.
And Naples University, founded not to become an important centre of culture and research, but to
educate good administrators, is, with no doubt, a convincing evidence.
           The sources refer a lot of details about the conversations and the cultural meetings between
Federico II, the savants sent by Saladin and Michele Scoto who had studied in Toledo; Bartolomeo da
Parma who taught in Bologna, in his Tractatus Spherae narrates that while Scoto was trying to explain
the concept of infinity to Federico II through the image of a circle on the floor, the emperor, who
hadn’t looked at the drawing, asked where the circumference started. Even the emperor assisted to the

    Translation: “That one, Michele Scoto, even in his smallness, knew all the games of those magic frauds”
discussions at the Svevian Court. We have lots of witnesses about this.
           The Jew of Provence Iacob ben Abba ben Samson Anatoli in his Malmad ha - Talmudic (the
stimulus of pupils) refers to the intellectual conversations about the Bible of himself with Michele
Scoto and he specifies that Federico II assisted to the debates. He exposed his points of view, which,
about the creation of the sky and land and about their origin from a sole substance, converged with
Avicenna, convinced about the eternity of the world; that is of a world created because being possible
and possible because, before the creation, the original substance from which the sky and the land were
born, already existed. In that occasion, in fact, in the Svevian Court the object of the debate was the
work of Mosè ben Maimour, called Maimonide, with his interpretation Michele Scoto and Iacob
Anatoli agreed. For them the thesis of a sole substance pre-existing in the world had to be rejected,
and the same for the eternity which was supported by the neoplatonic pantheism. Even Giuda ben
Salomon ha - Cohen, who came from Toledo, talked about this; he had lived from 1245 to 1247 at the
Svevian Court, where he had translated from the Arabic to the Jewish, his Essay on Sciences. Here are
some precise references to some discussions which were developed in front of the emperor; these
discussions concerned various arguments, and they were formed by lots of questions and answers,
that is through Quesiti which were addressed even in written form to savants who lived out of the
           It’s well-known that the Jewish savants and the texts in that language, represented for a long
time one of the main means of communication between the western culture and the Arabic - Islamic
one. About this identity of the Regnum, and about the cosmopolitan circularity of the cultural projects
of Svevian Court, Dante was conscious and in his De Vulgari Eloquentia he speaks about the
“risonanza della Trinacria terra6” and about “quegli illustri sovrani Federico imperatore e Manfredi
suo figliolo7” the cultural contacts with the external world were frequent in the Regnum, and those
with the Islamic settings were supported by the presence at court of Maestro Teodoro. Educated in
Bagdad and in Mosul, Maestro Teodoro had already been sent to Federico II’s in 1236 by the “big
caliph” identified in al - Kamil, Egyptian sultan. The Sicilian Questions which Federico II sent to the
savants of Egypt, Marocco, Siria, Yemen, Iraq are famous. The questions referred to astronomic,
physic, and above all philosophic problems. The crusade of 1228 is an evidence of this, in fact during
the events the Svevian monarch had been accompanied by Ibn el - Giuzi who taught him logics, a
science whose conceptual meaning was linked to Aristotele and which included the sciences of nature
and the logic maths; we refer to those logics which were symbolic because the value of the
proposition was quantified and calculated in algebraic methods. Jamsilla, Manfredi’s son, underlines
Federico’s interest in this subject during the discussions with the mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci

    Translation: “the resonance of the Trinacria land”
da Pisa, whose solutions to the questions were included in the Liber quadratoeum, dedicated to
Federico II, and in the Flos super solution bus quarundam questionum ad numerum et ad geometriam
vel ad utrumque pertinentium, in the first part of which it's said that it referred to the queries on the
cubic and square equations asked by Giovanni da Palermo with the presence of Federico, too. The last
considering the growing financial needs if the Court was probably interested to some treatises written
by Fibonacci for the merchants of Pisa about the calculation of the loans with variable interest rate.
The operations of calculation were an instrument of maths, a tool to face problems; understanding
obviously is different from calculating.
           From the exchange of Quesiti between the Sicilian Court and the Jewish and Muslim savants
it emerges a culture which gives evidence to that being thirsty of knowing which constituted the
premises, even moral of the everyday behaviors and of the political acting and which had its roots in
the scientific culture. This culture, for the Muslim, for the Jew and for Federico II represented one of
the instruments which, apart every ethnic and religious difference permitted them to be a part of the
same community and to share with the others their destiny. "The precious patrimony of sciences - the
emperor wrote to the teachers and students of Bologna University - does not paralyze when it's spread
among lots of people and it does not suffer reductions when it's taught dividing it; but the more it gets
old, the more it spreads among the public". And we seem to read what the German physician
Friedrich Dessauer wrote when, defining the human behaviors in society, he specifies that "being
isolated the man doesn't make progress. Only in the moment when he creates objects and compares
himself with what he has obtained, he succeeds in showing his personality", which is that of the
investigator, the inventor, the constructor and of the organizer and which expresses the link between
theory and operativity, between thought, experiment and action.

    Translation: “those famous monarchs Federico the emperor and his son Manfredi”

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